Capitol-Senate_FullU.S. Senator Dick Durbin this week sent letters to 30 information and communications technology companies – including Apple, Facebook, Skype and Twitter – seeking information about their human rights practices in China.  Durbin also announced plans to hold a follow-up hearing on global internet freedom next month.

Durbin’s initiative follows Google’s announcement that it had been the victim of cyber attacks aimed at gaining access to the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Google has said it is considering pulling out of China because of the attacks and what the company called “attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web.”

Only two weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton called on American technology companies to make a “principled stand” against attempts at censorship.

Sen. Durbin, Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, said his hearing next month will feature testimony from Google and other companies about their business practices “in internet-restricting countries,” as well as from high-ranking Obama Administration officials about the Administration’s efforts to promote internet freedom.

“I commend Google for coming to the conclusion that cooperating with the ‘Great Firewall’ of China is inconsistent with their human rights responsibilities,” Durbin said. “Google sets a strong example in standing up to the Chinese government’s continued failure to respect the fundamental human rights of free expression and privacy. I look forward to learning more about whether other American companies are willing to follow Google’s lead.”

Durbin’s letter asks each firm for details of its business in China, and what, if any, measures it will implement to ensure that its products and services do not facilitate human rights abuses by the Chinese government.

This week’s letter also follows up on a letter that Durbin sent last year, urging technology firms to join a voluntary code of conduct known as the Global Network Initiative (GNI). The code of conduct, which regulates the actions of technology firms operating in countries that restrict the internet, has been backed by Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! and a number of leading socially responsible investment firms.

Durbin’s office said the list of companies that responded to his previous letter included Apple, AT&T, Cisco, Dell, eBay, Facebook, HP, McAfee, News Corp, Nokia, Nokia Siemens, Siemens, Skype, Sprint Nextel, Verizon, Vodafone, Websense.

According to Senator Durbin’s office, companies that did not respond to his previous letter were Acer, Juniper, Toshiba, Twitter; companies that “partially responded” to his previous letter were Fortinet, Lenovo, Motorola.

Post to Twitter